2021 | Government

UPDATED: County employees must agree to vaccination or weekly testing by Sept. 18

County employees must agree to vaccination or weekly testing by Sept. 18

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This story was updated at 5:50 p.m. Aug. 25, 2021, to add comments from Scott Peterson.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said Wednesday that beginning Sept. 18, county employees must agree to either get vaccinated for the coronavirus or be tested weekly.

Elrich’s office sent a memo to the County Council earlier this month detailing a status update on the plan and negotiations between the county’s employee union, UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, and the county. 

In response to questions from the County Council, the memo stated that multiple items were still being “bargained,” including:

  • Whether employees will need to set up testing or if the county will provide them
  • Who will pay for the tests
  • Where the testing will be if the county provides it
  • Whether employees can get tested during work hours

Elrich said Wednesday that the “underlying issues” have been settled, but did not provide more details.

Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Elrich, said Thursday that the county is currently bargaining with not only Local 1994, but also the police and firefighter unions. The testing program will be finalized once officials understand how many county employees are fully vaccinated, he said. 

“Employees have until September 18th to submit proof of vaccination,” Peterson wrote in an email. “While we wait for that information to be collected, we will meet with our union partners to discuss possible testing options and how the program might look.”

Elrich urged all county residents to get vaccinated, citing recent news that the Food and Drug Administration recently gave full authorization to the Pfizer vaccine. 

“If your excuse is you don’t want to take an experimental vaccine, that excuse is gone,” Elrich told reporters. “Now you’ve got a fully approved vaccine, so if that’s what you were waiting for, please come and take advantage of it.”

The county executive added that he hopes more businesses follow the county’s lead on requiring either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. Wherever they work, employees who have been fully vaccinated deserve to know that their work environment is safe, Elrich said. 

Unvaccinated people “stand as the largest obstacle” in getting back to normal activities, he added. 

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, told reporters that during the last four weeks, there have been 2,874 coronavirus cases in the county. Of those, a little more than 1,000 were vaccinated residents.

The Centers for Disease Control and Preventions has said that because vaccines are not 100% effective, some vaccinated people will still get COVID-19. However, the vaccines “are effective at preventing infection, serious illness, and death,” the CDC says.

Of the 2,874 cases in the county the last four weeks, 115 people were hospitalized, 40 of whom were vaccinated, he said. Most of the vaccinated people who were hospitalized were over 60 years old and more likely to have comorbidities, Gayles said. 

Given that data, Elrich said he hopes residents “patronize” businesses that require weekly testing for the coronavirus or full vaccination.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com